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Most people think that when you visit Napa Valley you go wine tasting. If you want to ditch the crowds, head up Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail to Calistoga, California. Today I’ll share how to do Calistoga like a local.

Some of the best things to see and do in Calistoga do not necessarily involve wine tasting. Have you ever tried a mud bath or relaxed in the thermal hot springs? How about taking a picnic in wine country next to Old Faithful Geyser of California?

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Hike like a local at Oat Hill Mine Trail. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Hike Calistoga like a local

If you want to get out in this beautiful wine country, take your dog, horse, friends or mountain bikes and go for a hike or horseback ride at Oat Hill Mine Trail. This trail was developed in the late 1800’s when cinnabar deposits were discovered and mines were developed to extract the ore and produce quicksilver (aka mercury.) Construction of the Oat Hill Mine Road started in 1873 to provide miners a transportation route from Calistoga to the mines. Amazingly, it took 20 years to build, with the road opening in 1893.

Today the 8.3 mile trail follows the original route between Calistoga and the western end of Aetna Springs Road in Pope Valley. I didn’t hike the entire trail, but I could still see ruts carved by the heavy wagons that traveled this road. If you look at my video, you’ll see some rough and rocky places. I can’t imagine how horses and wagons navigated this soft volcanic rock with a full load.

When you walk this trail, remember to bring lots of water for yourself and your dog, there is no drinkable water on the trail. Also, please remember to share the trail with others and pull off to the side of the trail if you are a cyclist and see horses approaching; while horses are large animals, their little brains do not understand mountain bikes.

Eat in Calistoga like a local

After your hike, head back downtown. When I visit Calistoga, I like to eat where the locals eat. I always ask a local to tell me their top three happy hour restaurants and where to get the best cup of coffee or chocolate chip cookie. In this case, Bella Bakery was the hands down favorite for fresh baked goods.

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Earth and Sky Chocolates in Calistoga. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

I also like to find the best chocolate producers. In this case, Calistoga has several top notch chocolatiers. I visited Earth & Sky Chocolates and Flourish Chocolate. Earth and Sky Chocolates specializes in gorgeous bonbons that taste as good as they look. The husband and wife team of Christian Parks and Laura Koerth create small batch chocolates, some infused with wine, as well as unique tasting brittles. You’ll need to make an appointment to pick up these one-of-a-kind chocolate rocks; believe me, they are out of this world.

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Chef Holly Peterson creates Flourish chocolate mints in her Calistoga kitchen. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Chef Holly Peterson, a well-known culinary personality in Napa Valley, has launched Flourish Chocolate. Her chocolate creations have graced the table of fashion shows, diplomatic dinners and make wonderful gifts. I know of what I speak because I shared a box of Holly’s signature dark chocolate Fleur de Lys with a Calistoga friend who manages a Bed & Breakfast and she immediately put a photo of the chocolates up on her Instagram page.

Speaking of Instagram, if you like to look at beautiful chocolates follow Earth & Sky Chocolates and Flourish Chocolate on Instagram. By the way, Flourish is not open to the public, but you may shop for chocolate online.

Where to stay in Calistoga

I had the pleasure of staying at Cottage Grove Inn on my last visit to Calistoga. This is a wonderful bed & breakfast, situated within walking distance of downtown. Each cottage is individually decorated and has a lovely two person bathtub. The cottages are pet-friendly and the breakfasts are heavenly. My insider tip is to visit Calistoga in the shoulder season, December through March, as the hotels, restaurants and spas offer the best prices and this is a wonderful time of year to visit Napa Valley.

Calistoga wine tasting

Sterling Vineyards has been in Calistoga since 1973. While I wouldn’t consider myself an “old timer” I remember taking the aerial tram up to the California winery in 1982 on a date. Recently, I boarded the tram for a self-guided winery tour and ended in the tasting room for a cheese, charcuterie and wine tasting. I’m a red wine lover and the Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder, Napa Valley was showing nicely.

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Sterling Vineyards wine tasting. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

While the south view terrace offers lovely views of Calistoga, Sterling Vineyards does attract a lot of visitors in the summer season. Again, I recommend you visit Napa Valley in the winter shoulder season; locals refer to this time of year as Cabernet Season. It’s when this red wine varietal is released and when the mustard flowers are in full bloom. It’s also the most affordable time to visit Calistoga and Napa Valley, in general.

Girard Winery in Calistoga has recently opened its tasting room. If you are staying in downtown Calistoga, you can ride bikes to the winery. Of course, if you are visiting multiple Napa Valley wineries, you should always have a designated driver or hire a wine country tour.

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How to do Calistoga like a local at Girard Winery. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

I tasted the Old Vine Gamay Calistoga AVA, a beautiful red blend and a Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, among others. Reservations are required at Girard Winery for an additional fee.

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The Spa at EuroSpa photo © Nancy D. Brown

Where to spa in Calistoga

There are many high-end spas in Calistoga where you may enjoy a day spa or stay overnight. I’ve been to Solage and Roman Spa Hot Springs, and most recently The Spa at Eurospa. Soon, the Four Seasons will be opening a new resort in Calistoga. The Spa at Eurospa is probably one of the most affordable day spas in Calistoga and they have a very nice infrared cedar sauna. What are your favorite places to visit in Calistoga?

If You Go

For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown For additional information on Calistoga click here. How to Do Calistoga Like a Local, YouTube video and all photographer by local Bay Area Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.